Intentional Communities

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"a group of people who live and/or work together to achieve a common purpose or set of shared objectives, and who also share social values, passions or philosophy."

So an Intentional Community is a group of people:

  • who share a place equally, and own it collectively,
  • who make decisions about it collectively, and
  • who have a shared set of beliefs, goals and/or way of living [1]


Dave Pollard:

"While most ICs are physical communities, they may be virtual, and while the best-known are 24/7 living communities, some are working-hours only. What differentiates them most from casual communities and 'networks' is the degree of commitment and time dedicated to making them work.

Here's the list of Principles of Intentional Community that I came up with:

Commitment to, and Action in Accordance with, Shared Values and Purpose: The members agree to articulate their shared values and shared purpose, and to strive, in everything they do, to live according to those values and to strive to achieve that purpose. These will of course be different for each IC. However, some values are implicit in the principles below. While I suppose there might be communities whose intent is to do something in contravention to the principles that follow, I think most people would probably characterize these as cults rather than ICs.

Fair, Egalitarian, Participatory, Consensual Decision-Making and Dispute Resolution: ICs are different from hierarchical organizations and those who select 'representatives' to make decisions for the members. It takes more time to achieve consensus acceptable to all, rather than majority vote. It also takes a commitment from all members to understand the issues that must be decided, and to become skilled self-managers.

Actions Based on Thorough Research and Knowledge: Many promising ICs have failed because they haven't done their homework and hence made rash, uninformed, fatal decisions.

Cooperative and Collaborative Work: You can obtain great joy from working collaboratively with others, people you love and respect, but for some people in our individualistic society such work is foreign and difficult.

Communication, Openness, Outreach and Connectedness: Members need to commit to transparency with those they live and work with, and with the larger communities within which they live and work. Many of these communication channels need to be actively created and supported -- thy don't happen automatically.

Assessment of Member Readiness and Fit: There needs to be a process by which prospective members self-assess whether they are ready for membership, existing members can objectively assess their candidacy, and all can discuss openly whether the unique skills, passions and sense of purpose a new member brings to the community is a good fit with those of the current members.

Common Ownership, Equitable Income and Wealth Distribution: The issue of private property and equity of wealth and income is always a thorny one in any social arrangement, and ICs are no different. I'm going to write more on this in a later article, but for now I would say, from what I've seen and read, that IC members need to give up the idea of private property (but not privacy) and commit to the principle that no member should be disproportionately wealthier than any other.

Shared Responsibility and Acceptance of Interdependence: Following from principle #2 above, members need to acknowledge a responsibility to participate fully in the activities of the IC and not delegate that responsibility or authority to others. Likewise, the interdependence of members must be appreciated -- every action (and inaction) of every member has consequences for the entire community.

Mutual Respect and Trust: This one's pretty obvious. Without respect and trust, which must be continuously earned and given, there can be no enduring relationship and hence no community.

Non-Violence: Pacifist, but not passive.

Non-Discrimination: This is another tricky principle that I'll write more about in a future article. Some people see an IC as an opportunity to live more comfortably with "their own kind".

Sustainability, Conservation, Simplicity, Sufficiency, Humility and Frugality: An IC provides an excellent opportunity to share costs and resources, and knowledge of how to live a more natural, simple and sustainable life, using practices such as permaculture, biodynamic agriculture, bioregionalism,Thomas Princen's sufficiency practices and Jim Merkel's radical simplicity practices, such as: leaving the Earth as we found it, unhampered in its ability to sustain itself indefinitely, consuming as little of the Earth's resources as we need to be fully ourselves, measuring our 'success' not by material wealth or GDP but by the quality of our lives ('our' meaning that of all creatures we share our ecosystems with) -- health, well-being, happiness, learning, love, and relearning to listen to the Earth, to pay attention, and to live in harmony as a part of it Self-Sufficiency: Most ICs, for economic or aesthetic reasons, are located away from cities and the resources that create dependency on centralized systems (the electrical grid, central heating, malls) in many modern neighbourhoods. The combination of space (for growing food and generating renewable energy) and collaboration (sharing skills and resources) allows ICs to be collectively self-sufficient, in part because of the interdependence of their members.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship:

Being a Model: ICs tend to attract creative, independent thinkers with the capacity and willingness to experiment with novel ways of doing things and, through mutual support, to be entrepreneurial, and hence to serve as models for modern societies that are, for the most part, inflexible, unimaginative, and slow to respond to change and new needs.

Healthy Community: Away from most pollutants, not locked into a sedentary lifestyle, and informed of the dangers of chemicals in food, water, air and soil, and alternative and novel health treatments, ICs can be pioneers in self-management of personal health, and self-diagnosis and self-treatment of illness. And by incorporating exercise, relaxation and spiritual practices in their daily routines, they can be much healthier than average citizens.

Continuous, Self-Directed Learning, Discovery and Competency Development: Just as a degree of autonomy is both a challenge and opportunity in self-managed health, it can also be a challenge and opportunity for self-directed learning, both for children and throughout life. Many ICs have adopted breakthrough educational programs based on the work of Steiner, Illich and Gatto, and through unschooling and Internet technologies and knowledge, and through members teaching and showing each other what they know, have taken responsibility and developed capacity for learning without the need for institutions.

Optimization of Collective Happiness and Well-Being: What ultimately brings most people to ICs is dissatisfaction with the way they are living and making a living. ICs, through work-sharing and collective imagination, can let their members rediscover how to entertain themselves, how to play, how to have fun, and how to live joyously without a need for external stimulation. And sensitivity to each others' feelings helps to build a collective, self-reinforcing sense of well-being and joy.

Enabling Self-Realization and Self-Actualization: Even beyond comfort, health and happiness on the Maslow scale, ICs offer nearly unparalleled opportunity for their members to be more authentically human, more genuinely themselves. Being part of an integral community enables deep self-knowledge and, if it is in a natural setting, deep ecology and reconnection with one's senses, instincts and all-life-on-Earth. I would argue that this is the only foundation for self-realization and self-actualization." (


Difference from Cohousing

Dave Pollard:

"An Intentional Community could inhabit urban, village, rural or even virtual space. It could be designed by the future members collectively, or retrofitted by self-selecting members already living there or in close proximity.

What about co-housing and housing cooperatives? While the term "co-housing", like "community", could be taken to include commercial condominium, strata title and resort developments, true co-housing communities grew out of the Danish model and are real housing cooperatives (a cooperative is identical to an IC, as defined by the three criteria above, except what they share equally is an enterprise, not a place, and instead of sharing a way of living they share a way of making a living). Although true co-housing is a form of Intentional Community, the shared set of beliefs, goals and/or way of living are often more limited and pragmatic than they are in "deeper" ICs.

The private ownership of units can help placate both members and mortgagors worried about exactly what they own (and fussy local zoning authorities wedded to the anti-communitarian definition of "single family dwelling"), but in this respect Nubanusit is not true cohousing and not really an IC.

The issue is, How much difference does this really make? Is insisting on collective ownership of all the land and buildings of the community a form of ideological purism, that could be holding us back from creating and retrofitting thousands of such developments as a model of a better, more environmentally sustainable and socially responsible way to live, a stepping stone to help our whole society rediscover the value of self-sufficient community and take back decision-making from remote and powerful political and economic interests?

Or will communities like Nabanusit, as they're resold again and again over time to strangers who had no part in their design and rationale and are indifferent to their Core Values, end up looking like every other exurban community on the planet? It really all comes down to the ownership of private property and decisions on who can and cannot become a member of the community. Without collective ownership and collective decisions on membership, what may start as a true community with shared intention could easily end up as just another neighbourhood of convenience, with residents dictated solely by proximity to their places of work." (


  1. Dave Pollard: What I learned from the Whole Village intentional community